Devoted to Something Difficult..

Earlier last week I started rereading Austin Kleon’s book Keep Going. I first read it towards the end of last year when I was in a deep creative slump. Creatively speaking, I was really struggling to find and maintain the energy and motivation to “keep going” and the book was helpful. This year, I feel like I’ve gained some ground artistically. I still wrestle amidst the endeavor to make art and to keep my creative practice alive, but that fight never really ends. 


In fact, Kleon is sure to point out that “No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really ‘arrive'”.


I’m still trying to find my way but, even more so, now I find myself struggling to simply “keep going”. I am emotionally, psychologically, and physically exhausted. It seemed as good a time as any to revisit Kleon’s book.

In the opening pages of the book he writes that after “writing and making art” for years “it didn’t seem to be getting any easier” and he asks himself “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?” I’ve been asking myself that same question, not only in terms of art but, also in terms of coping with the dramatic changes my life has undergone this year.

Everyday I find myself wondering when the words will simply flow, when the art will become second nature, and when I’ll start to feel…better.

I’ve been working on one creative endeavor or another for almost as long as I can remember and it’s never gotten easier. It’s almost been six months now since my ex-wife and I separated and started working towards divorce, and that too, has certainly not gotten any easier. In fact, it feels like its gotten and continues to get, harder. I am suffuse with questions, and more and more I am asking “Isn’t it supposed to get easier?”


John O’Donohue says that “Suffering always brings a myriad of questions we cannot answer: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Why was what was so precious in my life so abruptly taken from me? Will I be able to survive this at all? How will I live from now on? When you are standing in the place of pain, none of these questions can be answered.”  I am searching for the comfort of coherence and understanding, the consolation of an explanation, but, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, it is a “grasping for the wind”.

Buddhist thought suggests that part of the reason for why we suffer is because of three defilements: greed, hatred, and delusion. We desperately clutch at what we crave, we kick against what we desire to avoid, and we delude ourselves into thinking both are possible. Maybe the Buddhists are right, I want to make art without obstruction or constraint. I want to be mended without difficulty or pain. And, the fact that I am “suffering” seems to be proof that I am too delusional to accept that it just doesn’t work that way. Perhaps, the struggle lies not in the making of art, nor in the pursuit of healing, but in the struggle to accept that both are hard.

Kleon explains that, for him, “Everything got better…when [he] made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier”. Even as I type out his words I can feel myself struggling to accept their veracity. I am so not as peace with the thought of perpetual difficulty, and maybe that’s the problem.

O’Donohue writes that “When lonely suffering is courageously embraced and integrated, it brings new light and shelter to our world and to the human family.” But,”embracing and integrating” that lonely suffering is a real motherfucker. I’m not sure I know how to do it yet.

I’m honest enough to admit that I don’t yet have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I don’t know if I have the courage to change the things I can, and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to know the difference.

Perhaps, for now at least, the best I can do is to be a conversation devoted to something difficult….

Houses of discovery…

houses of discovery

From the start of this piece it didn’t feel very “inspired”, and I’m not sure I really found the “spark” at any point in the process of making it. But, I finished it, and I’d like to think that counts for something.

I believe in showing up and doing the work regardless of how I feel, irregardless of “it” feels, regardless of whether or not inspiration ever shows up, and irregardless of whether or not anything “inspired” comes out of it.  For me, its about being more “religious” than “spiritual”. It’s about placing one’s dependence upon the discipline, the routine, the practice, the ritual, welcoming the magical moments of spiritual transcendence and inspiration when they serendipitiously arrive, but faithfully working with observant persistence in the gap of inspiration’s inevitable absence. The Psalmist says to “be of good courage, take heart and wait…” I think we take heart in the courage of continuing to work in the waiting.

Christopher Niemann says that “Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane”. 

I sit down at this desk everyday, partly because I want to be productive and make good work, but mostly to avoid going insane, or to at least slow the progression of the ever-encroaching madness. The routinized ritual of creating near daily helps me deal with life and helps me make it through the day. It provides me with at least a semblance of saneness and stability. For a few moments I can find my way to some normalcy. I can temporarily fain the feeling of being “ok”, and feeling “ok”, even for a short time, when your whole life has become a deep fried cluster fuck tossed in a shit storm glaze is a damn near supernatural event.

Art and life run parallel together on the same continuum. In many ways, they are one and the same. What is true for one, is then, more often than not, true for the other. As Austin Kleon reminds me, “There will be good days and bad days. Days when you feel inspired and days when you want to walk off a bridge. (And some days when you can’t tell the difference.)” He points out that “Not everyday is going to turn out the way we want it to” but, “The important thing is to make it to the end of the day, no matter what”. He says that “No matter how bad it gets, see it through to the end so you can get to tomorrow”.

Often there is no rhyme or reason to the volatility that separates the good days from the bad, the inspired from the uninspired, the marvelous from the mediocre. Charles Bukowski said that the greatest literary teaching he was ever taught was “the meaning of pain. Pain without reason.”

Some times the absurdity of it all is a profound discovery. Sometimes the meaninglessness of it all is deeply meaningful. 

And so I keep showing up. I try my best to see it through, even, and especially, when it sucks, and I share it, because no matter how closed off I keep myself, no matter how lonely and isolated I seem to be, in some tucked away corner of my mind I know this is a shared journey.

The tension began to leave…

When I started working on this, it came from a place of sheer creative desperation to find something, to make something. I’ve said more than once that the muses are capricious. The night I was making this, they were exponentially so.

I had first attempted to record a podcast, a process that is, under normal conditions, relatively easy. I usually record in one sitting, and in one take with minimal, if any, edits. But, I also live next door to a house that functions as an Air B &B. From time to time there are guests that are rowdy and boisterous. On this particular night, the Air B & B guests were also exponentially so.

I’m not sure if the noise actually came through in the recording or not but, it was certainly distracting. And, truth be told, I probably wasn’t in the best frame of mind to record anyway.

Needless to say the recording process didn’t go well, and it became abundantly clear that it just wasn’t going to happen.  I set that project to one side (a seemingly healthy response) but, the frustration remained and lingered. I NEEDED to make something (perhaps, a not so healthy response).

I began experimenting with this piece after coming across a video on the Adobe blog. I decided to try my hand at do something similar. It didn’t go so well…

I suppose my drive to make something overtook my aspirations to throw my phone across the room, punch a hole in the computer screen, and give up making art forever. However, I should say that so far this year, I’ve only quit art forever a couple times a month. My therapist, if I was still seeing her, would surely this is as progress…I should probably give her a call.

After several hours, this piece made it to a place that I was happy with. 

To a greater or lesser extent, the tension began to leave. For now…

The perfume of the ghost…

I spent a day or two slowly tinkering with this one. I probably could have finished it a little sooner but, I think working on it was kind of a way to procrastinate my decision of whether or not to record a new podcast episode.

I know that I should, I’ll have my kids next week, and I probably won’t get the opportunity to then. But…I just finished writing the episode, and I’m not entirely sure it’s ready, or maybe I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready…or maybe both.

I guess we’ll see…

What did any of that have to do with this piece you may be asking?…Probably nothing, maybe something…Fuck if I know.

Maybe it’s all an interconnected and intertwined part of my unceasing cycle to renew myself…

New Podcast Episode – “Glimmers of Hope in the Kitchen…”

the possibility claimed meaning

Madeleine L’ Engle says that “An artist at work is in a condition of complete and total faith”  – a faith that some minute piece of the manifold mystery will become material for a moment. A faith that some small substance of the things hoped for will become manifest albeit in an ephemeral way. A faith that we will uncover the evidence of things unseen, the evidence of the possible, and that the possibility will claim meaning.

We are full of secrets. We contain a multitude of mysteries. We are breathing inkblots, walking Rorschach tests. Perhaps, its in experiencing the weight of our own untold secrets that we are driven to create and compelled to keep creating.

Maybe art, itself, is an external attempt to touch our deepest secrets, the secrets buried so deeply that we don’t even know that they’re there. And maybe, these are the secrets fighting the hardest to be unearthed.

We stand poised upon the precipice of a sacred unknowing. We don’t know what comes next for us as a culture, as a society, we don’t know what our civilization will become, but we know that there are glimmers of hope in the kitchen, and maybe that’s the secret sauce.

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Shout out to my patrons:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty – https://www.instagram.com/wellinformedish/

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the podcast and all my other creative work, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

The confines…

I suppose, in a way, I’ve been thinking a lot about space and time lately. Not from a scientific perspective. I’m not necessarily talking about astronomical space or universal time, but rather the “spaces” that one finds in their life and in their time, and the latent possibility and potentiality that lurks there.

Since my ex-wife and I separated in early January, I’ve found myself with an abundance of space and a seeming surplus of time. At first the oncoming flood of space and time was overwhelming and even disconcerting because I didn’t quite know what to do with it, didn’t know how to utilize it. I was being met with a jarring emptiness,of space, a vexing vacuity of time.

At some point it began to feel a bit more like a blessing. I now had all this time and space in which to create and be creative. Space in which to experiment with possibility. Time in which to explore potentiality.

But, there still remains this creeping feeling in even this creative space and time, an unexplained eeriness that waxes and wanes amongst the open terrain potential and possibility. I am coming to grips with a sense of constriction and confinement.

Even in meeting with a kind of freedom and liberty I feel a tightening, a recoiling. The blankness upon the upon the horizon is terrifying. The openness is alien.

Sartre said that “man is condemned to be free”. That says a lot about us as species when we can somehow manage to turn freedom into confinement. I think its because we implicitly and inherently crave any semblance of security we can be afforded. And more often than not, we find that security in being confined. As John O’Donohue suggests, it is “the security of confinement and limitation that we know” that grants us a sense of safety.

Perhaps, there is a latent terror always-already hidden underneath freedom. I feel that sense of condemnation that Sartre speaks of, and I don’t yet have answer for it, or a way to be fully at peace with it…

I’m trying to recognize that every day we are gifted with space, an infinity of creative space. A lush expanse of space in which to breathe in the blankness. We are graced with the presence of open possibility. We are greeted by the invisible potency of potentiality. And yet we often respond with resistance, choosing the paralyzing restraint of self-confinement.

And I’m also trying to recognize that, as O’Donohue says “To go beyond confinement is to rediscover yourself.”

New Podcast: “Fair Weather in the work…”

Maybe I’m just getting to that age where conversations about the weather is a thing that happens now. Maybe the weather is as good a metaphor for life as any other. Perhaps then every conversation about the weather is an implicit conversation about living and being alive. Perhaps what we really talk about when we talk about the weather is how we are handling the way life is at this moment right now…

If you want to look further into some of the writers and thinkers I mention, check the links below:

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Practical Meditation Journal by James Martin

Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott

Brilliant Ideas: Artist Grayson Perry 

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Shout out to my patrons:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the podcast and all my other creative work, consider becoming a Patron on Patreon.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

New Podcast – “Poetic Pyromania & Artistic Archaeology”

This episode is kind of a hodge podge of ideas and reflections. I talk about some recent art work I’ve done and some feedback I’ve got from that’s given me some food for thought. And so I thought I’d offer you some of these random thoughts on art, poetry, and everything in between. I hope you like it.

I reference a lot of books in this episode and quite a few artists. Here’s some relevant links if you want to delve deeper:

Art as Experience by John Dewey

The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark

Artist Liu Wei

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’ Engle

The Lotus and the Rose by Matthew Fox and Lama Tsomo

Artist John T. Unger

The Roman Empire and the New Testament by Warren Carter

If You’re interested in pre-ordering “The Unusual Collections” mentioned in the show which contains a t-shirt, a Mala, a signed copy of Jim Martin’s book, The Practical Meditation Journal, and one of my Art Prints – click here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/special-offer-37125633

Thanks to my Patrons and Supporters:

Jim Martin – https://theunusualbuddha.com/

Ben Bridges – https://www.myfpvstore.com/

Rev. Jerry Maynard – https://www.facebook.com/thepplspriest

Julianna Minotty

Bob Clubbs

If you’d like to support the work I’m doing, becoming a Patron is a great way to do that: https://www.patreon.com/duanetoops

And thanks to the incredible people who have recently purchased prints of my Art Work – Molly Graham, and Bill and Sallee Bonham.

If you’re interested in purchasing prints, feel free to message me on Social Media:

FaceBook – https://www.facebook.com/duanejtoops

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/duanetoops/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/duanetoops

New Published Pieces!

Today the good folks over at the Medusa’s Kitchen blog were kind enough to publish two of my new cut out poem collages.

This is the second time I’ve had the privilege of appearing on their blog along side some really inspiring pieces of poetry. You can find my first appearance here.

Hope you like them!

Lessons in Analog: The Start of Something Interesting…

Almost all of my work is done in the digital domain. The only exception might be the random notes I scribble down during podcast interviews or when capturing a thought requires the utmost speed and immediacy. The videos and podcasts I make are recorded and edited digitally. It’s the same for my forays into photography – all digital. My “writing” is done primarily in a digital format. Even now, as I write this very essay, my thumbs are tapping furiously upon a digital keyboard displayed on a smart phone screen, watching the words arise letter by letter into an Evernote document.


Recently, I’ve even started dabbling with collage. That too, has been an exclusively digital endeavor.


Working within this digital environment has been creatively freeing but, for one reason or another I’ve found myself wanting the experience of physically cutting out images, the sensation of spreading glue across paper, the motion of moving the pieces into place by hand, the tangible unpredictability of brushing on paint.


The flexibility of digital, allows me to overcome some of the anxiety of creating. but, as I’ve been dabbling in Analog mediums again I’m beginning to learn unanticipated lessons.
Digital work provides the ability to infinitely undo and redo. The ceaseless option to reset to original means that No mistake is ever permanent, and I think sometimes that can be problematic.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly helpful to those of us who judge ourselves harshly because of the mishaps that inevitably occur during the creative process but, I think the reliance upon this kind of digital forgiveness has the potential to hinder as much as it helps. It insulates us from the weight of our artistic transgressions. By becoming dependent upon this ability to fix everything that falters we are each in danger of creating in a “bubble”; seduced by the sterility of safety and security. If Art imitates life then, here we implicitly create an unrealistic view of life and reality; a view of the world anesthetized of error, a reality sanitized of slip-ups – an artifice, an un-reality…


That may sound tempting but, it also sounds boring and uninteresting.


In a recent conversation I had with my friend Daniel Midson-Short he said that “You don’t have a story until something goes wrong”. In every story, every book, movie, and tv-show something dramatic, something traumatic, or something catastrophic, maybe even cataclysmic, occurs and that’s when things get interesting. A tale without a twist is a tale in which nothing takes place. A story that doesn’t go sideways isn’t a story at all. The misadventure is the adventure. It’s the adversity that gets our attention. It’s the crisis that peaks our curiosity. 

Midson-Short says that “we’re interested in the character development of the person after something goes wrong not because they succeed”. There can’t be a protagonist without an antagonism, and calamity reveals the character of a person. When the shit hits the fan we demonstrates the truth of who we are, and it’s who you are when things don’t go well that matters most, that’s what makes you interesting, “that’s the parts that people remember”.

Sometimes we fuck up. Sometimes we fuck up bad. There is no undo. There is no reset to original. That’s life. But, those moments of profound “fucked-up-ness” are the most telling, the most insightful, and the most revelatory. We don’t know what what we’re made of or what we’re capable of until we encounter adversity and things get fubar.


We have to sit with the mistake, we have to take it in long enough to really understand it, and we have to figure out a way to make it work. Sometimes working with the stray marks of an unsteady hand or the brush strokes that go awry actually open us up to new creative possibilities. Sometimes it reveals something we’ve never seen before.

But, sometimes we just can’t make it work, sometimes there’s no “fixing” it. There are times when we just have to live with our errors, accept them for what they are, and start again…


As Thich Nhat Hanh explains “without any suffering, we can’t fully develop as human beings.”


Collage pictured in this post didn’t turn out right. It didn’t come together as well I had hoped and because of that, it’s the start of something interesting…